Stay at home… Or not.

Oh to read about something called the “Mommy Wars”.  It is frightening that such language will and can be applied to the population of the US’s blogging and commenting mothers and thus pull out yet another proverbial war just because we’re the nation with rockets and bombs in our anthem… Oh well.

I have been both the full-time working mother and the stay-at-home mother now, and I can say that I’ve learned a lot from having been both.  Perhaps the first thing I have learned is that the experience varies so widely in both situations from day to day that perhaps the best lesson is “Judge not lest ye be yourself prepared for judgement.”  I think I want that one on my tombstone someday.  But to the meat of this blog, then, a comparison of the pros and many cons of both arrangements, because I can tell you that from start to finish, neither is perfect because we (the mommies in the trenches) are humans, and who ever heard of a perfect human, eh?  And before we begin let me add just one more precaution: this list is far from definitive because it is unique to me.  These are my understandings and experiences, and so if something from within here resonates with your experience, that’s nice, but if it doesn’t please don’t drag out your AK-47 and bomb me into the Stone Age for daring to have a different experience than what you went through because I am not under some strange delusion that my experiences are anything more than merely mine.

Working Full-Time and Mommy(ing) at the Same Time

Cons

  • You will crucify yourself day in and day out for the fact that you drop your child off every working day with another set of humans to take care of and it does not matter if those humans are in your family.  The nails come out for when milestones happen and you’re not there.  The sword comes out when your friends who are SAHMs are posting photos of their little ones’ milestones all over social media.
  • The income makes your life more comfortable, but then you remember that you’re mentally crucified every day for money and then you just feel like some kind of whore… Because that’s what a woman working for money is, right?
  • It causes physical anguish when your little one screams as you drop them at daycare.  You know they’re not in pain, and you would rather be with them too (right?), but you get back into the car and realize that those marks on the steering wheel are from your fingernails and that stuff under your nails is from how hard you’ve been gripping the wheel as you drove.  (Oh and that “They’ll get used to it…” fluff is just fluff.  He wasn’t used to it by the time he started school.  Some of them are NEVER used to it.)
  • Your work doesn’t stay at work, of course, so then you’re using your precious hours at home for work (because working when they sleep is completely unrealistic in most cases) and now you feel like you might become psychotic if they plead with you to play with them and you have to tell them again, “Right after Mommy finishes her work.”  (Educators, you feel me, right?)
  • You become obsessed about not having to share the few hours alone you get every day with your child with the rest of the world because you’ve worked all day to be with them and now you get to be with them so those friends you had who don’t have a child yours can play with can just vanish because my kid matters more, except…
  • You’re going to go crazy if you have to sit through another episode of any kid’s show and you’d commit murder to be able to just go out with some adults you really identify with for a drink and a conversation.
  • But as you’re out you feel like you’re actually stealing this time from your child who doesn’t have you while you’re working so as you’re out “having a good time” and “having some time for yourself” you feel like the most selfish, most SINFUL being on Earth.

Pros

  • The pro is, of course, that you don’t live paycheck to paycheck which actually does matter because it means that in emergencies or unplanned things when money you otherwise wouldn’t have had flies out of your life, then it’s covered and you and your spouse and your little one are not food, water, or shelter insecure and you’re also not asking your loved ones for money.  But that’s only if you’re both working really good paying jobs with benefits like my husband and I were.  There are families whose children were our students who were food insecure and shelter insecure on a regular basis, who showed up everyday in our classes and their parents were almost to a person working full-time… I cannot imagine the purgatory of those shoes.
  • You can afford fun things for the family without a whole lot of hesitation, which is really nice!
  • You learn to be uber-organized about time and about what matters to you.  Suddenly decisions that used to be hard are all very cut-and-dried so to speak.
  • You learn that a few days with nothing to do with just your family around you can feel like absolute paradise.

Stay At Home Mother (with a rMA Thesis to write)

Cons

  • The baby is your world!
  • The baby is your world which means: you have no time to do ANYTHING except take care of it, and you suddenly feel strangely guilty if you find yourself wishing that for just an hour someone else would take care of your baby so you could shower or just sit and stare at the wall if you wanted.
  • Your baby has days when they refuse to be content if you put them down for as much as one minute, and when that means that the house is a disaster, and you’re a disaster, and all you’ve been doing is caring for a baby, you can choose to listen to those ever-so-well-meaning-diplomats who post on your feeds “You just have to put them down sometimes!” and you KNOW you’re going to try to do your chores through screeching the likes of which makes your flesh crawl…
  • And you learn that there’s a time limit to how much of it you can stand.  And God save another human being (an adult or an older sibling) who speaks to you while your baby is in that screech mode!
  • You learn that you CAN dig your nails so far into the palms of your hands that you draw blood.  It happens when they’re drawing blood from your baby for testing and they can’t use a syringe yet so they have to take the needle OUT of the syringe and insert it into his tiny tiny vein and you have to watch and help hold him down while his blood slowly drips out of his little hand into a vial.  You didn’t know you had this much empathy in yourself.
  • You learn that the person who said, “The best laid plans of mice and men.” must have had a baby in his life when you were just planning to take a short stroll and everything imaginable that could, within the conceivable limits of statistical possibility goes wrong and you come back feeling as though you have scaled Everest without oxygen or sherpa, and with the baby in your left hand.
  • You start to hate your husband because he can escape to work.
  • When the baby can crawl you learn that there is no room in the house that could ever be properly baby-proofed and you start wishing that when you’d first moved in you had adequately planned for this by having one room just a padded cell with nothing in it because
  • BABIES DO NOT PLAY WITH TOYS!  THEY PLAY WITH EVERYTHING AROUND THE TOYS ONCE THE TOYS HAVE BEEN STREWN THROUGHOUT THE LIVING ROOM!
  • You start having esoteric and existential conversations with God about how on Earth he could have created a creature so fragile at birth and yet with a grasp capable of holding onto your hair with such force that you feel as though you’d talk to any foreign power about anything at all if THIS were used as a method of torture, and yet gift the fragile creature with a heart-melting smile that permits you to forget the torture long enough to bring the hands back in reach of the hair at the nape of your neck because you wanted to give it a kiss…
  • You try not to have those conversations with God aloud because
  • You’re the only freaking adult in your life suddenly until your husband comes home.  (I say suddenly because you didn’t know that having a baby makes you a “friend and family” widow because of the amount of time necessary to arrange to leave the baby or take the baby with to have a visit once the well-wishers after the birth are gone.)
  • And when your husband says that he’d like to be able to “play with the baby all day” you find that you’d like to cheerfully castrate the ungrateful and unknowing swine (either that or vanish so he’d have to take care of a screeching, hair-pulling, unamuseable child) except
  • You suddenly can’t trust other people to take care of your kid because you’ve become a pro at it and you know just what to do and when most of the time and you doubt whether anyone else has this knowledge that the beast has ninja-ed into you over the last 8 months.
  • You realize that you didn’t pay any child care worker enough to care for your first born.
  • You also start to realize that maybe they don’t do this to strangers and it’s only because you’re the mother that this stuff happens.

Pros

  • Baby hugs are very special and they don’t come back once they’re gone.  No one writes about baby hugs in the developmental milestones, but it’s my favorite.  Getting to have baby hugs every day, and to be able to turn to that smiling face and reach down for a baby hug after working on research on the sordid and cynical all day can restore your faith in humanity.
  • You learn to be awesome as a parent.
  • You have unlimited access to something so precious you never figure out how you pulled yourself away from your child to go to work in the first place.
  • You learn confidence about things you didn’t know you could do before.
  • You become less fearful because surviving air travel with your child means you have little else to fear (right?)
  • You don’t have to wait for tomorrow for another day to begin because a disastrous morning can be solved with a good enough midday nap and suddenly a new day has DAWNED!
  • You know that you’re saving an incredible amount of money not placing him in childcare.
  • When you laugh at something and he laughs too you know that you’re sharing his first social laugh and that kind of thing can’t ever be purchased.
  • You learn that a great family get-together or an evening with friends is also priceless.
  • You no longer feel guilty about leaving him alone for a bit.
  • There is no longer small stuff to sweat because it all somehow vanished… And the big stuff you can’t sweat because you’re working so hard that sweating stuff outside the immediate is really for the birds at this point.  Suddenly you understand how Scarlet O’Hara managed to think about things in a proverbial “tomorrow”.
  • The time you don’t have now to do the things you think you want to do will all be given back to you later when he tells you he’s going to hang with the gang.  You learn to truly enjoy what you have when you have it.

So those are the lessons off the top of my head, but the biggest difference between the two versions of my life as a parent is that as a working mother I felt more in control of myself and my day’s destiny because my moods and the success of my days were not tied to a rambunctious, ever-changing and ever-growing little baby.  I find myself at the end of some days now so wrung out watching him sleep and wondering/fearing what tomorrow will bring that I cannot imagine how all that stress has built up.  But then I recall that when I was working full-time I saw my child so little that there was not a huge amount of time for anger or frustration or fatigue to build up, while being with a baby the entire day means that every 40 minute screaming session or angry/fighting diaper change or failed attempt at meal-time (don’t you love teething?) has built up and is living within my memory with the result that if Teddy has had a completely rotten day, then, so too have I.  It is interesting that if I write a good article, do some successful research, get the house cleaned and yet have had to get it all done through a terrible day with him I struggle to really enjoy the successes I had because my life as a researcher is not neatly partitioned off from my life as a mother the way my life as a choral director/educator was.  The amount of self-determination has gone down precipitously, but I’ll take the good with the bad and keep rolling with the punches because in 3 short years (I can’t believe that) he’ll be off to school.

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on August 17, 2015.

One Response to “Stay at home… Or not.”

  1. I can’t fully relate to the working mom piece as I only worked part-time, but for the most part, my experiences were very similar to yours. -Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, always feeling a little guilty which ever role you chose. – The role of a mother is never easy, but vastly fulfilling.

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